What to Read, What to Listen To, What to Watch…

With Covid news still the top of mind, here are a couple of good articles.  First I recommend Dalhousie sociologist Karen Foster’s “Why women’s careers have suffered more than men’s during the pandemic.”  As she points out,

“Women shouldn’t have to trade economic security for their caring roles and responsibilities, and we are seeing women do that because of the pandemic.

courtesy of Medium.com

She writes about the problem of public facing jobs, such as in the retail and service sectors, shutting down.  Those sectors are mainly staffed by women.  And as economist Armine Yalnizyan points out that Covid plunged us into a “shesession” and we need a “shecovery”.

We need a “shecovery” from this “shecession”

The YWCA and the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business have come out with an impressive report, A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada:  Making the Economy work for Everyone.”

Woman in a recession. Photo from the Christian Science Monitor.

The report, published in July 2020, has many recommendations including this one:

One of the most significant actions the government can take now is to mandate the collection of disaggregated data on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic along these multiple dimensions of social identities. This data would allow policymakers to assess whether post-pandemic economic recovery policies are having intended effects, or if they are widening inequities. They could also allow policymakers pivot programs and policies to better reduce inequities. For instance, because Canada has not tracked COVID-19 statistics by race, its impacts on Indigenous, Black, and other marginalized communities cannot be fully ascertained.

The report also calls for implementing the now largely overlooked Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls for Justice in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry Report. 

“Ensure that Indigenous peoples and especially women, girls, and

“Ensure that Indigenous peoples and especially women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities, and that they gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.”

The report cites a recent Statistics Canada survey that sought to understand the economic ipacts of Covid on racialized Canadians.  It found that racialized communities faced higher rates of job loss and reduction of hours compared to the white population. 

Similarly, racialized communities reported higher rates of strong or moderate financial impact of COVID-19. The rate was particularly higher for Arabs, West Asians and Filipinos (42% or higher), compared to 23.2% for White respondents. 

American Dirt: How Not to Write a Book about a Minority Experience…

On another note, if you’re reading, you might also look at the July-August issue of The Walrus. In a very lively article by Tajja Isen, the digital editor at The Walrus, How Not to Write a Book about a Minority Experience she writes about the latest twist in publishing.  It seems what was a blockbuster hit, American Dirt, has suffered ignominy.  Despite recently spending three months on the New York Times bestseller list, the book is an embarrassment.  Written by Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt is about a Mexican bookseller who, with her son, flees a dangerous drug cartel and tries to cross into the US.  But critics have been – well – critical– and devastatingly so.  They have cited stereotypic characters, a plot that clearly distinguishes good guys from bad guys and sets up America as the beacon of hope.  The publisher cancelled Cummins’ book tour and

…apologized “for deep inadequacies in how we at Flatiron Books address issues of representation…”

It seems some publishers are now hiring a “sensitivity reader” who reads a novel to ensure proper respect and representation of racialized, ethnic or other minority characters.  The most interesting comments about the need for sensistivity readers are from Casey Plett, Canadian author of Little Fish, one of the best novels I’ve read lately.  I briefly reviewed Little Fish in my blog here

Plett’s been hired by at least one publisher to read and react to how trans women are represented in fiction.  In case you get the idea that being a sensitivity reader is a decent gig, think again. It pays, on average, $1 a page — $300 to “vet” a 300-page book.  That is far less than what publishers typically pay freelance copy editors.  Higher pay for copy editors is attributable, in part, to Unifor’s Canadian Freelance Union which you can read about here.

Be careful what you tweet…But did Thorne deserve to be fired?

Talking about freelance work, several weeks ago Tara Thorne, who had been a weekly  arts reporter on CBC Radio One’s  Information Morning in Halifax, was fired.  It took the CBC several years to fire Jian Ghomeshi whose sexual exploits against women at  the CBC were an open secret.  It took less than 24 hours for the CBC to fire Thorne who dared to post a somewhat funny, if raunchy, tweet about Premier McNeil’s son. 

I, like so many others, believe Thorne should be reinstated – she did abjectly apologize and take down the tweet immediately.  But this article in the Canadian Freelance Guild’s newsletter is a reminder that freelancers (not permanent staffers such as Ghomeshi was) are basically expendable  according to the CBC and other media players.  By the way, did anyone start a petition to ask for Thorne’s reinstatement? Let me know.

Blood in the Water, by Silver Donald Cameron

I just finished Silver Donald Cameron’s new book Blood in the Water: A True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes. This is a non-fiction book by a great NS writer, a former university professor, a filmmaker and an environmental activist.  Tragically, Cameron died in the last few months – mere weeks before the release of this his final book. 

June 1, 2013, three fishers in their lobster boat, the Twin Maggies, were out in the harbour of Petit de Grat when they saw Philip Boudreau in his smaller boat, Midnight Slider, poised to interfere with their lobster trap lines.  Boudreau had done this many times; often he cut the lines which meant fishers – who were also his neighbours – lost thousands of dollars in harvesting every year.

It was never clear  who killed Philip Boudreau.  And there was no body. There was a rifle aboard the Twin Maggies, and at least four bullets were fired into the side of Midnight Slider.  What happened next is part of the mystery.  Twin Maggies had three men aboard; Craig Landry, Dwayne Samson and James Landry.   Craig Landry told the police what happened that day – and his story became the Crown’s case against the other two men.  All the men were related, and James Landry was Samson’s father-in-law.

The book is not a who dunnit by any means.  Many column inches in newspapers and  magazines, as well as current event programming at the CBC and other outlets carried much of what took place.  The trials of the three men accused of murder were covered extensively by the media. The strength of Cameron’s book is that it looks at the culture of the lobster fishermen, their tight-knit (and inter-connected) families and the fishing communities of Isle Madame.  The book is also about the callous lack of concern by the RCMP on the island, their laziness and their reluctance to take effective action against a local citizen who used threats, beatings, thefts, and even rapes to terrorize many neighbours. The nasty citizen was also the murder victim, Philip Boudreau, a 43-year-old single man.

I don’t want to say much more, but the gory details of the murder were not what interested me, nor were the characters and goings-on at the jury trial. Silver Donald Cameron poses many ethical questions about who should be responsible for “belling the cat” – for ensuring communities are safe from bullies and even criminals—such as Boudreau.  But should the police be the arbiters of justice? Boudreau had spent half his life in jail – what good did that do, other than keeping him away from others on Isle Madame?  Cameron notes that some felt Craig Landry went to the police to turn in the other two as a way of saving his own skin.  And that he did.  He  received a minor sentence of  two years’ probation.  Samson and the elder Landry – who was 65 – ended up spending several years plus in prison.  James Landry died within a year of his release.   None of the crew of the Twin Maggies had a criminal record before these events.

What to listen to… “The Writer’s Voice”

In the last few weeks, I’ve heard two wonderful short stories on the New Yorker podcast “The Writer’s Voice.”  Both have to do with wealth, and servants to the wealthy.  Yet each story is as different as chalk and cheese. You can listen, as I did, or read them– click on the hyperlinks below :

“You Are My Dear Friend” by Madhuri Vijay is read by Vijay.  The story is about a nanny who works for a wealthy British family in India.  The nanny is the top servant in the household which gives her some privileges.  Ultimately she leaves the family to marry and it’s her desire to create a ‘real’ family. That brings problems to her husband in the form of her adopted teenage daughter.  An excellent short story with a twist near the end.

Then I listened to “White Noise” a short story by Emma Cline. 

This is not a gentle tale as is the one above.  This is a story about the last day of freedom for Harvey Weinstein.   He’s facing his sentencing hearing.  The story is acerbic, witty and nuanced yet clear. Weinstein is the much diminished movie mogul — who still wallows in sexist talk, and misogyny.  He rents a home in Connecticut for the duration of his trial;  he finds out that his neighbour is the famous novelist Don DeLillo– the author of the novel White Noise. (A review of the novel is here.) In the short story, Weinstein tries to ingratiate himself with DeLillo who barely looks in his direction on the shared driveway.  But Weinstein, deluded –or maybe confused –about his own future, asks Nancy, his secretary, to book a table at a classy New York restaurant three days hence.  By the way, he reminds Nancy, tell DeLillo he can bring his wife or ‘GF’.  A delightful and insightful short story from start to finish.  

Photo of Weinstein going to court: John Taggart/Redux. There’s a nice short article on Weinstein’s “Pain” here: https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2020/01/harvey-weinstein-trial-pain/605293/

What to Watch…

I just spent a week at a palatial cottage, near La Havre on Nova Scotia’s picturesque south shore.  Everything was great; the internet signal was strong enough for email, but not to stream a movie.

So from the Halifax Public Library, I borrowed the DVD, The Children Act. This British film was was based on the novel by Ian McEwan by the same name. The film features Emma Thompson in the leading role. She’s a judge who has to decide tricky ethical and moral cases, as her long-lasting marriage falls apart. I never finished the DVD because my DVD player had a hissy-fit. Here is the trailer. However I did read The Children Act when it was published, in 2014. My only bone to pick is that McEwan, one of the top UK writers of his generation, defends some of the racism behind Israel’s ongoing torment of its own Arab population (20% of the Israeli population) and its illegal and brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In 2011, McEwan accepted the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, though he did point out that many thought he should not go to Israel or accept the prize.

“He [McEwan] said that since his decision to come to Israel to accept the prize, “my time has not exactly been peaceful” – referring to demands “with varying degrees of civility” for him to boycott the ceremony.”

Harriet Sherman in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/feb/20/ian-mcewan-great-injustice-israel

“Capital” — but not the one by Marx!

I also borrowed the DVD Capital.  This is a charming and humorous series based on the excellent novel 2012 of the same name by  British writer John Lanchester.  The five episodes feature neighbours on Pepys Road in London whose property values have skyrocketed  — each of their Victoria brick homes is valued at nearly 3 million pounds.  Each character has a different reaction to sudden wealth, and each receives an ominous postcard with this sentence on the back, “We want what you have.”  Is this a threat, a promise, or a joke? I especially liked the intrigue of the novel, but this series is a delight – though not so piercing, unsettling or funny as the book. 

Another find was the 2011 series Mildred Pierce.  As some of you know, the original film, 66 years ago, featured Joan Crawford as a divorcee who became a successful restaurant owner in California, while her private life fell apart.  The re-make is more like the teenage Nancy Drew series – rather sanitized, with few redeeming qualities.  Kate Winslet plays Mildred Pierce.  The series is set in the Depression years up to the early 1940s.  The re-make of Mildred Pierce is over-acted (something I find in most American dramas)  and repetitive.  But if you liked the 1945 original, you might want to have look at this one.  There are 5 episodes, on two DVDs– Warning: It’s bland and rather predictable. Here’s the trailer for the miniseries.

Featured Painting above: The Horse Fair (1855) by Rosa Bonheur. At the National Gallery, London UK. For more about the amazing artist, read https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/rosa-bonheur

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